For people who suffer from panic disorder, lions and tigers and bears have nothing on the local shopping mall. When anxiety strikes from out of the blue, the most innocuous locations can trigger paroxysms of terror. What causes these attacks, and why don’t they happen to everyone?
What Are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks often appear as part of a generalized anxiety disorder. Sufferers can become dizzy, short of breath and engulfed by a pronounced feeling of dread. Their heartbeats accelerate. A fear of losing control or dying on the spot consumes them. These symptoms can persist for 10 minutes or more, and as they increase in intensity, the person will experience a desperate need to escape.
Who Suffers From Panic Attacks?
While at least one in five American adults will suffer the occasional random attack, as many as 2 percent will experience full-blown panic disorder. The condition is twice as common in women as in men, and children are far from immune.
Regardless of the sufferer’s age, an initial panic attack can generate a phobia about the situation in which it originally occurred. As the attacks increase in severity and frequency, the victim may begin to avoid any situations and locations that he fears will trigger another. At this point, the condition can morph into agoraphobia, and the individual will frequently refuse to leave home at all.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes of panic disorder will vary. Some research points to nutritional deficiencies, medical conditions and sensitivity to certain medications or food additives as potential instigators. Social stress, irrational fears and biological triggers can all play a part. However, although the condition also tends to run in families, not all cases have a genetic basis.
Effective Treatment of Panic Disorder
Although natural remedies for the condition are making the rounds, many question the safety and efficacy of unregulated over-the-counter supplements. In addition, prescription medications pose a possibility of serious side effects, potential for addiction and questionable effectiveness that should make their use a means of last resort.
Modern research currently highlights the importance of psychological therapy as an effective panic attack treatment. In many cases, nothing more is needed.
Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular will help the sufferer identify and directly address the irrational thought patterns and actions that lead to and reinforce panic attacks. Targeted relaxation techniques and gradual exposure to the situations that produce anxiety can prevent or decrease its intensity. The therapy can also assist the sufferer in thwarting the onset of a panic attack and putting the brakes on one that has already started.
The diagnosis of panic disorder need not be a life sentence. It is true that an untreated case can persist for years, but with prompt and proper therapy, the odds of a timely return to a normal life are excellent.